Asturias, officially the Principality of Asturias, is an autonomous community of Spain. It is coextensive with the province of Asturias, and contains nearly all of the territory that was part of the Kingdom of Asturias in the Middle Ages. The autonomous community of Asturias is bordered by Cantabria to the east, by Castile and León to the south, by Galicia to the west, and by the Bay of Biscay to the north.
The most important cities are the communal capital, Oviedo (Uviéu), the seaport and largest city Gijón (Xixón), and the industrial town of Avilés. Other popular municipalities include Cangas de Onís (Cangues d'Onís), Cangas del Narcea, Gozón, Grado (Grau or Grao), Langreo (Llangréu), Laviana (Llaviana), Lena (Ḷḷena), Llanes, Mieres, Siero, Valdés, Vegadeo (A Veiga) and Villaviciosa (see also List of municipalities and comarcas in Asturias).
Asturias has been inhabited, first by Homo erectus, then by Neanderthals and finally by modern humans, since the Lower Paleolithic era, and during the Upper Paleolithic was characterized by cave paintings in the eastern part of the area. In the Mesolithic period, a native culture developed, that of the Asturiense, and later, with the introduction of the Bronze Age, megaliths and tumuli were constructed. In the Iron Age, the territory came under the cultural influence of the Celts; the local Celtic peoples, known as the Astures, were composed of tribes such as the Luggones, the Pesicos, and others, who populated the entire area with castros (fortified hill-towns). Today the Astur Celtic influence persists in place names, such as those of rivers and mountains.
With the conquest of Asturias by the Romans under Augustus (29-19 BC), the region entered into the annals of history. After several centuries without foreign presence, the Suebi and Visigoths occupied the land from the 6th century AD to the beginning of the 8th century, ending with the Moorish invasion of Spain. However, as it had been for the Romans and Visigoths, the Moors did not find mountainous territory easy to conquer, and the lands along Spain's northern coast never fully became part of Islamic Spain. Rather, with the beginning of the Moorish conquest in the 8th century, this region became a refuge for Christian nobles, and in 722, a de facto independent kingdom was established, the Regnum Asturorum, which was to became the cradle of the incipient Reconquista (Reconquest).
In the 10th century, the Kingdom of Asturias gave way to the Kingdom of León, and during the Middle Ages the geographic isolation of the territory made historical references scarce. Through the rebellion of Henry II of Castile in the 14th century, the Principality of Asturias was established. The most famous proponents of independence were Gonzalo Peláez and Queen Urraca, who while achieving significant victories were ultimately defeated by Castilian troops. After its integration into the Kingdom of Spain, Asturias provided the Spanish court with high-ranking aristocrats and played an important role in the colonization of America. Since 1388, the heir to the Castilian (later Spanish) throne has been styled Prince of Asturias. In the 16th century, the population reached 100,000 for the first time, and within another century that number would double due to the arrival of American corn.
The Industrial Revolution came to Asturias after 1830 with the discovery and systematic exploitation of coal and iron resources. At the same time, there was significant migration to America (especially Argentina, Uruguay, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico); those who succeeded overseas often returned to their native land much wealthier. These entrepreneurs were known collectively as 'Indianos', for having visited and made their fortunes in the West Indies and beyond. The heritage of these wealthy families can still be seen in Asturias today: many large 'modernista' villas are dotted across the region, as well as cultural institutions such as free schools and public libraries.
As a result, Asturias remained loyal to the democratic republican government during the Spanish Civil War, and was the scene of an extraordinary defence in extreme terrain, the Battle of El Mazuco. With Franco eventually gaining control of all Spain, Asturias — traditionally linked to the Spanish crown — was known merely as the "Province of Oviedo" from 1939 until Franco's death in 1975. The province's name was restored fully after the return of democracy to Spain, in 1977.
On December 30, 1981, Asturias became an autonomous community within the decentralized territorial structure established by the Constitution of 1978. Rafael Luis Fernández Álvarez, who had previously served as the President of the Regional Council since 1978, became the first President of the Principality of Asturias, upon the adoption of autonomy. The Asturian regional government holds comprehensive competencies in important areas such as health, education and protection of the environment. In May 2011, the President of the Government of Asturias is Francisco Álvarez-Cascos, of the Foro Asturias (FAC), being superseded by Javier Fernández on 2012.